The United States is due to withdraw its last ground forces from Iraq on December 20, 2011. Currently, there are only around 8,000 American troops left in the country. The details of the military leaving are pretty much set, but there is one major outstanding issue. The U.S. still holds one last prisoner. That is Hezbollah commander Ali Mussa Daqduq, who was captured in 2007 for involvement in attacks upon U.S. troops. The Americans are supposed to release all of their prisoners at the end of the year as part of the withdrawal process, but does not want to do that in Daqduq’s case. Not only have Washington and Baghdad been in protracted negotiations over his future, but so have the Obama administration and the Congress.
The U.S. is due to release all of its prisoners at the end of the year. On November 22, it turned over its last batch of Iraqi detainees, numbering 37 in total. That left only one prisoner in its possession, Ali Mussa Daqduq. The United States government has asked that Daqduq to be permanently placed under its control. The Americans are afraid that if he is turned over to the Iraqis he will be released or escape. Baghdad on the other hand, wants to try Daqduq in one of its own courts. The two sides are still in talks, but it does not seem that Baghdad is willing to budge on the issue. Iraq wants to gain authority over Daqduq not only because it is part of the withdrawal agreement with Washington, but also to assert its sovereignty. It feels that anyone caught in the country by the United States, whether they are Iraqi or not should be under its control, and not be taken by a foreign power.
Even if the United States were to change Baghdad’s mind, there’s no telling what it would do with Daqduq because of disputes between the executive and legislative branches. Originally, the Bush administration wanted Daqduq brought to the U.S. where he could be tried for terrorism. The Obama administration was hoping for the same. As the withdrawal date neared however, several prominent Republican members of Congress such as Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in May 2011 saying that Daqduq should not be held in the United States or tried in a civilian court. In July, 20 Senators including John McCain of Arizona wrote another letter, this time to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arguing that Daqduq be placed in Guantanamo Bay, where he could also be tried in a military court. That’s impossible, because the Supreme Court ruled that only Al Qaeda and those connected to the 9/11 attacks could be held there. President Obama is also opposed to maintaining the terrorist prison camp there, so he does not want to send new detainees there. This impasse has never been worked out, so even if Daqduq were turned over to the Americans, he would be left in a political and legal limbo until the Senators and the administration were able to agree upon a compromise. Given the heated partisanship and up coming presidential election in the United States, there’s no telling whether that could be achieved any time soon adding more complications to the Daqduq case.
|U.S. briefing on capture of Daqduq in 2007 (CNN)|
Ali Mussa Daqduq is a senior commander in Lebanon’s Hezbollah. He was placed in charge of the organization’s operations in Iraq. In 2005, he travelled to Iran to help train Iraqi militiamen there. The next year, he entered Iraq to collect intelligence, advise the Shiite militias, and help deliver weapons to them. In January 2007, he aided a breakaway Sadrist faction, the League of the Righteous, carry out a sophisticated and well planned attack upon a U.S. base in Karbala in conjunction with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qods Force. According to American intelligence, Iran built a mock up of the Karbala base to practice the raid. The operation included fighters dressed in American military uniforms and carrying U.S. weapons, driving black SUVs similar to those used by the Coalition. They ended up killing five U.S. soldiers. Daqduq was eventually arrested in March 2007 in Basra. He was then placed in Camp Cropper in Baghdad, one of the main American detention facilities, where he admitted to working with the Qods Force. Since then, both Lebanon and Iran have asked for custody of him, along with the U.S. Daqduq represents Hezbollah and Iran’s involvement in Iraq. Both tried to influence post-Saddam Iraq in their favor by supporting Shiite parties, arming militias, and harassing the Americans. Daqduq was part of the military side of that strategy, and was one of many Hezbollah operatives who were in Iraq at the time.
While Washington may be able to convince Baghdad to turn Ali Mussa Daqduq over to them, he will likely end up with the Iraqis. If the Americans do retain custody there doesn’t appear to be anywhere he could be held, because of the on-going debate with Senate Republicans. Some makeshift plan would have to be crafted such as detaining him in a territory like Guam or American Samoa. He would probably be kept there until after the 2012 presidential election, and whoever wins would have to decide his fate. There’s very little chance that will happen. Instead, Daqduq looks to be handed over to the Iraqis. Despite official statements that they want to try him, there’s little that they can charge him with. Daqduq’s operations were largely aimed at the Americans, an issue the Iraqi courts are unlikely to take up. He could therefore be released, which is what the U.S. fears, but they have very little say in the matter anymore.
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Jakes, Lara, “Iraq delays taking militant custody amid US fear,” Associated Press, 7/22/11
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- “Last US troop to get out of Iraq by 20 December,” 12/6/11